Artwork by Vince Patti
New York is a blue state. We haven’t voted Republican in a presidential year since 1984. The State Assembly is 2 to 1 Democrats and every statewide elected official is a Democrat. Despite all this, the State Senate has been controlled by Republicans for all but 2 of the last 50 years. How? Well every 10 years they gerrymander the heck out of their district lines and end up eking out a majority. The infuriating part for progressives is that these lines get approved by the Democratic Assembly and (in 2012) by a Democratic governor. In fact, in 2012 the Democrats won a large majority of the popular vote for Senate but don’t control the chamber because of 5 breakaway Dems created the Independent Democratic Conference or IDC and formed a coalition with Republicans.
Why is this important? Several reasons. While other states are passing minimum wages of $11 and even $13, New York is only going up to $9 because the Senate wouldn’t approve any higher. While affordable housing is being lost at an alarming rate in New York City, the Senate blocks stronger rent laws. While women’s reproductive rights are under assault all over the country, the Senate blocked a vote on a Women’s Equality Bill. And of course, no vote on the Dream Act, which would help undocumented immigrants who’ve lived here almost all their lives go to college.
And all the while, until very recently, Andrew Cuomo has supported Republican control of the Senate, effectively killing these progressive goals. If he wanted any of these bills to pass, all he had to do was veto the redistricting bill in 2012, the courts would have drawn fair lines and Democrats would have enough seats to control the Senate even without the breakaway Dems.
Now Cuomo says he supports his own party controlling the Senate and the IDC is going to join the regular Democrats in a coalition, but this is only after the Working Families Party threatened to run a candidate against Cuomo. This begs the question, how are progressives supposed to trust a guy who had to be negotiated into supporting his own party controlling the legislature?
The Cuomo campaign has announced it is creating an additional “Women’s Equality” ballot line to run on in the fall. The cynicism here is breathtaking. The Women’s Equality agenda was blocked in the Senate by the very Republican led coalition Cuomo empowered by signing the redistricting bill and supporting the IDC Senators who allied with Republicans.
So will Cuomo’s newfound support of Democrats translate into a progressive majority in the State Senate next year and will legislation long blocked begin to move? We’ll know soon enough. If he really campaigns for Democrats in the fall and within a year he’s signed bills raising the minimum wage & allowing localities to raise it further, strengthening and expanding rent regulation, decriminalizing marijuana, codifying Roe v Wade, and passing the DREAM Act we’ll know he’s kept his word. If none of these things happen, well, we were taken for a ride. In the meantime, Cuomo is facing a challenge to his left from Zephyr Teachout in the September primary. That should keep the pressure on him for now.